Discover ancient village churches, built by master craftsmen from stone that was later used in Westminster Abbey.
Minimum time 3h00
Distance 13.5 miles (21.7km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL45 The Cotswolds
Start/finish car park in Burford; grid ref: SP 253122
Trails/tracks unclassified country roads and lanes, two short sections on main roads
Landscape rolling countryside bordering the River Windrush
Public toilets at car park
Tourist information Burford, tel 01993 823558
Bike hire none locally
Recommended pub The Fox Inn, Great Barrington
Notes Care to be taken crossing main road in Burford and on two stretches of main road later in ride. The ride is undulating.
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Burford stands by a crossroads of the A40 between Oxford - 23 miles (37km) and Cheltenham - 20 miles (32.2km) and the A361 north from Swindon. A car park, from which the ride begins, is signed along Church Lane from the A361 in the town centre.
1 Riding out of the car park, turn left up Guildenford and then, opposite the Royal Oak, go right along Witney Street. At the busy crossroads in the centre of town, cross diagonally into Sheep Street and head past the hospital out of the village. After 0.5 mile (800m), just as the road begins to climb, look for a very narrow, unsigned lane leaving on the right. It gently rises and falls along the side of the Windrush Valley, offering picturesque views over the low-lying meadows bordering the river. Although poorly surfaced initially, the lane improves towards Little Barrington, passing the village's tiny church along the way.
2 At the end of the lane, drop right beside the green, shortly going right again over the river towards Great Barrington. Beyond The Fox Inn, a second bridge heralds a short, but steepish pull into Great Barrington, passing the entrances to Barrington Park and the nearby church at the top on your left. Carry on into the village and keep right in front of the war memorial for Taynton, the way tracing long undulations along the valley side. The area is famed for its fine stone and the masons who worked it. Taynton provided stone for the repair of Westminster Abbey and the Strong family from Barrington served as master masons for the building of Wren's St Paul's.
3 At Taynton, the church is set back from the lane on the right. It was once part of a small monastery belonging to the French abbey of St Denis, which was dissolved by Edward IV and given to the Abbot of Tewkesbury. Cycle through the hamlet and keep ahead towards Burford, eventually reaching a junction with the A424.
4 At this point you can shorten the ride by going forward and then right at a mini roundabout to return to Burford. Otherwise head left up the hill for 200yds (183m) before turning right on a narrow lane. It winds past Manor Farm over Westhall Hill, then falls beyond to join the A361. Follow it left through Fulbrook, very soon leaving at the second of two turnings on the right, a single track lane signed to Swinbrook. It climbs steadily away between fields and past woodland, later dipping to cross the head of Dean Bottom before descending to a junction. Swinbrook lies to the right, where another church on the right, St Mary's, merits a visit.
5 Carry on beyond the church for another 200yds (183m) before turning left uphill to leave the village. Keep right with the main lane, still gaining height along the valley side. Later levelling to a junction, go right to Asthall, dropping to cross the base of the flat valley where a sporadic line of pollarded willows marks the course of the river. Follow the lane around right into the village, winding left in front of the church before turning right by the entrance of the manor.
6 Head away along the lane to a crossroads, where to the right, just across the river, you will find a welcoming pub, The Swan Inn. The onward way, however lies straight over, along the pretty valley, through the tiny hamlet of Widford and eventually back to Burford.
The wealth generated by medieval sheep farming is evident in Burford's church, a magnificent edifice topped by a soaring spire, which is said to be one of the highest in Oxfordshire. Yet although the surrounding churches may be more modest in scale, they each have qualities worthy of investigation. At Little Barrington there is magnificent Norman stonework around the doorway, whilst Great Barrington's church contains an Elizabethan effigy of a Captain Bray, unusually depicting the sword on the right. Pardoned by his queen for killing a man in anger, Bray swore never again to draw his sword with his right hand. The church at Taynton has fine carving decorating the door and windows, with corbels fashioned into heads overlooking the nave. The font, too, is remarkable, adorned with angels, evangelists, and other figures including a mermaid.
At Swinbrook you will find two splendid Tudor-style monuments and the graves of Nancy, Unity and Pamela Mitford, whose family held Asthall Manor. Nancy is known for her novels, which included Love in a Cold Climate and Unity gained notoriety because of her association with leading Nazis. At St Nicholas's, Asthall, you can see one of the few surviving 'blacksmith' clocks. Widford's church is reached by a footpath off on the right after crossing the river by Widford Mill. Isolated after the village was abandoned to escape the plague, its walls have sombre 14th-century frescoes, grimly reminding man of his mortality. The building occupies the site of a Roman villa, but a famous tessellated floor, discovered beneath the chancel, is sadly now covered to prevent vandalism.
The ancient wool town of Burford is an attractive focal point for this exploration of the secluded Windrush Valley, presented here as an 'unclosed' figure-of-eight circuit that allows two shorter rides. Surrounded by the rolling Cotswold hills, the Valley is lined with pretty small villages.